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Michael Jai White Aims To Change The Industry One Film At A Time

The famed actor discusses the demanding task of directing, producing, and starring in 'Never Back Down: No Surrender.'

Michael Jai White has a vision; he seeks to change the film industry. And the sort of change he ultimately wants to achieve comes from transforming the types of films audiences see and the selection of people telling those stories. And his first plan of action to tackle this multi-faceted mission (White revealed that he’s been hard at work on several different projects) is Never Back Down: No Surrender, an action thriller in which he directed, produced, and starred in.

In the film, White reprises the role of former MMA fighter, Case Walker, who wishes to get back into the ring after a lengthy hiatus. On Case’s journey to the championship held in Thailand, he runs into long time friend and former opponent, Brody James, who currently holds the title. Together they train and fight their way back into top-notch shape, all the while experiencing obstacles in love (the love interest is played by his wife, Gillian Iliana Waters) and rivalry. The display of sheer athleticism offers a unique perspective, which White says, the industry doesn’t always get enough of.

"I think a movie should expose a world that you would never know about if you hadn’t seen it. So that’s my aim – to bring truth to this particular story," White told VIBE during a phone conversation. Although mixed martial arts has undoubtedly been exhibited in films over the years, a certain truth shines through in this particular one.

White isn’t an actor who becomes a martial artist, or even a martial artist who becomes an actor. He is both. "I’ve made my living as primarily an actor and as a martial artist," he said. And while many recognize him as an actor first, playing in the action/adventure film, Falcon Rising or the fantasy thriller, Spawn, he also has an extensive background in MMA, which reiterates his motive to bring truth to filmmaking. White admitted he was a martial artist before the term MMA was ever pegged. And as certification for this declaration, he holds black belts in eight different forms of the sport, including Taekwondo and Jiu Jitsu. That expertise is demonstrated in the film.

As White discusses the extraordinary amount of energy it took to put authenticity into every scene, he speaks of one in particular, where he’s depicted sparring with co-star, and real MMA icon, Josh Barnett. Instead of going through stunts, the two engaged in an unscripted dual, which admittedly brought challenges to being both a director and starring actor. "Had the producers really understood how crazy that was for the director to actually be sparring one of the most dangerous heavyweights in MMA history," Michael recalls, laughing, "they might have stopped that from happening. But trusting me and letting me do something that crazy was part of the attraction."

He's the first to star, produce, and direct in a film where the lead actor and romantic couple are African American. "If you look at every movie there’s a dominate, alpha, white man and woman in every damn thing you see. It’s not so for black characters. Most of the time we are written off as the buddy or somebody of little significance." But for him, the ‘buddy’ role is dead.

"It’s a double edge sword; people want to limit you as much as they can," he says of breaking this seemingly perpetual cycle. "That’s why the majority of the roles I’ve played, I’ve had some hand in developing them." And with the release of his latest film, as well his next ventures into the industry, he continues to bring change, while paving his own way in.

Check out what White told VIBE about Never Back Down: No Surrender, taking on multiple responsibilities, and acting while black.

What moved you to direct, star, and produce the film? 
MJW: I think what I wanted to do was put quality into the genre. Considering an action film, I wanted to make sure it has a balance of humor and reality, and offers teaching about the MMA lifestyle, like we’re finding a real inside glimpse into it. And I have a unique perspective and I don’t think there’s a lot of opportunities to have [one] like mine. That’s why I felt like I would be the rightful director of it.

Since you have a unique background in acting in addition to directing and producing, what do you think those different roles brought to the table? How do you think your vision, coming from behind the camera and in front of the camera helped shape this movie? 
MJW: I’ve made my living as primarily an actor and as a martial artist. So there are two realms that I fully understand. Even though it’s an action movie, my knowledge of the subject matter and also acting and trying to convey reality, is a unique perspective. I think a movie should expose a world that you would never know about if you hadn’t seen it. So that’s my aim – to bring truth to this particular story.

What were the challenges of directing? 
MJW: There’s a lot of physical and mental challenges. It’s probably the busiest job that one could ever have because you’re one of the first people on set and one of the last people to leave. And you have to control every aspect. When you look at the end of a movie and you see all those names that go up, the director has had constant connection with every name in the credit list. So it’s an amazing amount of work. But I feel like in life, you have to live to your potential or you’re never going to be satisfied. So I welcomed it. I think it’s one of the most fulfilling things I could ever do.

There’s this idea of what acting and directing all in one looks like: you’re in front of the camera one second, but you’re also yelling cut and then jumping behind the camera to make sure everything is going well. What does it look like on set wearing multiple hats or responsibilities?
MJW: One important thing is that you hire a crew that knows what they’re doing. Everybody’s there to complete your vision. So of course I have to be a great communicator because I’m educating people about a lifestyle they don’t know about. And you have to garner trust from your producing partners because they’re going to have a limited understanding, but have to trust your vision, despite what they think of the lifestyle and genre... For me, it’s kind of natural. Even when I was just an actor, I look at things from a producer and director standpoint as well; I’ve always done that. It’s actually quite comfortable because I have been the actor toiling over if the director remembered certain aspects [of the film] while I’m in my trailer. I’m worried about other things that have nothing to do with my character. Your creative juices are constantly flowing, and there’s constant ways of bettering the piece that will be exposed to you as you go on. And as a director, you can take advantage of those things and it’s exciting realizing how you can make your movie better every single day.

Can you talk a little bit about your background in MMA?
MJW: I’ve been doing it before it was called MMA. I did wrestling in high school and college. I did extensive boxing for years, training with some world champions. And then of course, martial arts, karate, and Taekwondo. And actually, I started with Jiu Jitsu. So my success in fighting was attributed to the fact that I did several styles. As a black belt holder in eight styles, that mix of martial arts is something I lived by.

How was it working with MMA icon, Josh Barnett?
MJW: It was great! Not only is Josh the most decorated heavyweight in the history of MMA, he’s one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever known. We’re both jock nerds; we’re cut from the same cloth. It’s quite staggering how many similarities we have. It was really easy to communicate to somebody with his type of intelligence.

How would you describe acting through the high energy moves and stunts on camera?
MJW: The hard part was working in the heat. Josh Barnett and I did a fight scene, where we were in 125-degree heat while doing this. It was 110 [degrees] outside and it was hotter inside under the lights. I wanted to make sure the fighting was very close to real. In fact, there were scenes where Josh and I are sparring and it’s not choreographed. That’s one of those things where had the producers really understood how crazy that was for the director to actually be sparring one of the most dangerous heavyweights in MMA history, they might have stopped that from happening. But trusting me and letting me do something that crazy was part of the attraction. Sometimes my detriment, I always believe I can do anything. And I believe I could shoot this movie in 18 days and wound up doing it, but damn near killing myself. So by the third day, I knew I was in a little bit of trouble; it was rough. If anything that martial arts teaches you is that it teaches you to overcome obstacles, and you can do that through your will and discipline. And so I had no doubt that I would succeed, but it was not easy. I don’t think this has ever been done before – a movie like this in 18 days with the physical stuff I had to do.

How was that dynamic of working and starring alongside your wife? 
MJW: She’s my best friend, and she’s super intelligent, which is the greatest thing. She’s that twin soul, soulmate, best partner I could probably have. She made it far better. And the fact that she’s playing my romantic lead, no acting was involved. This is the first time that a married black couple has ever done a movie as romantic leads.

You mention that this film is the first of many – showing this glimpse into the world of MMA, and the first time a black actor and couple have starred in such a film. Why do you think there is such an underrepresentation of this in these sorts of films? 
MJW: I wouldn’t say it’s an underrepresentation. [MMA] is so specific. There’s not a lot of white roles in MMA movies [as well]. So it really has nothing to do with color I think. A lot of my roles I play in don't have anything to do with my ethnicity, whether it be Blood and Bone, Falcon Rising, or Never Back Down. A lot of these are just leading characters.

There’s been an increasing inclusion of black actors in super hero and action films, with leading roles in Black Panther, Captain America, and X-Men. What do you think is the significance of putting black actors in the forefront, in what have traditionally been white roles, instead of the people who get killed first in thrillers or the friends, etc?
MJW: If you look at every movie there’s a dominate, alpha, white man and woman in every damn thing you see. It’s not so for black characters. Most of the time we are written off as the buddy or somebody of little significance. And when there’s ensembles, the black guy is basically patted on the head. I really haven’t seen [a film] in the last eight years, I said I wish I played. It’s really sad. That’s why the majority of the roles I’ve played, I’ve had some hand in developing them. Whether I’m writing Black Dynamite, producing in Blood and Bone, Falcon Rising, or writing directing, and producing Never Back Down 2 and 3 – these things are not something that’s been written for me. And as far as something written for an alpha, black male, I can’t tell you how little of that I’ve seen. And you have a few once in 10 years, like a Black Panther, but I don’t know how they are going to be handled.

So how does this perpetual cycle finally break?
MJW: Denzel Washington gave me some great advice, and I believe he got that advice from Sidney Poitier. He said that your career is shaped by the roles that you reject and the roles that you take. And I believe that’s true because the majority of my career has been legitimate acting. But as soon as I did anything with martial arts in it, there was a tendency to label me as just a martial arts actor. But there’s a reason why I didn’t want to do any martial arts movies until I was established as an actor first. However, people tend to forget that I’m a legitimate actor, and I fuse those worlds together when I’m producing things. It’s a double edge sword; people want to limit you as much as they can.

What’s next in terms of producing, directing, and acting? 
MJW: I have another entity into the Black Dynamite era. I always intended doing three different movies that existed in that blaxploitation universe. One of them is a Western that would harken back to a Buck and a Preacher meets Blazing Saddle.

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Music Sermon: The One Minute Hit - When TV Theme Songs Were Lit

The idea of sitting around the TV for appointment television is an archaic concept. Multiple devices with screens for everyone in your home plus the control of streaming has changed how we consume nearly everything except sports, award shows, and Game of Thrones (until tonight). But the children of the 80s very much remember when TV watching was still an event, cable was basic, and the networks reigned supreme. Back in that era of genuine primetime programming, our favorite TV shows came paired with 30-second to one-minute themes. But not just a random little ditty to open the show; these were genuine mini-songs. Verses, chorus, hook, and maybe even a reprise for the end credits.

Now, a drive for more advertising inventory coupled with shorter attention spans has rendered the true theme song a rarity; but in the cases where they do still exist, the songs continue to be a key part of experiencing the show (again, like Thrones). The theme song draws you into the world of the show, it sets the tone, and it stays with you after. And the theme song game wasn’t a space like the commercial jingle game where only folks in the game know who the players are. The theme show business has its own OGs, but there are also names we know well - acclaimed producers, artists and musicians who helped create TV music magic. As such, there’s also a lot of hidden music history and connections behind some of these joints. I have watched an inordinate amount of television consistently throughout my life - you will pry my cable cord out of my cold, dead hands - and I consider myself an expert on the TV theme song. I offer you my list of some of the most soulful, slappin’ and impactful examples of the majesty of TV theme songs from yesteryear.

Sanford & Son

There is literally no music space Quincy Jones hasn’t conquered, including television. Q was in movie scoring land when Norman Lear’s partner Bud Yorkin came to him about composing a theme for their new show, Sanford and Son. “He said, 'I'd like you to write the theme for it.' I said, 'Who's in it?' And he said Redd Foxx,” Quincy told Billboard. “I said, 'Man, you can't put Redd Foxx on national TV!” I had worked with Redd Foxx 30 years before that at the Apollo. We used to do the Chitlin Circuit. I used to write this music for him to come out with.”

Q composed “The Street Beater” without even watching the Sanford and Son pilot. “I wrote that in about 20 minutes,” he said in an interview about his work in television. “I just wrote what he looked like. It sounds just like him, doesn’t it?” The funky, rag tag, backwoods bluesy song was the perfect musical accompaniment for Fred’s surveying his junkyard as Lamont’s truck rolled up, “It was raggedy, just like Foxx.”

Good Times

Norman Lear was the goat of working-class American storytelling on screen, but his shows also had some of the most iconic theme songs – “Those Were the Days” for Archie Bunker, “One Day at a Time” has great lyrics if you pay attention, he even had Donny Hathaway singing about pre-Golden Girls Bea Arthor for Maude. TV producers often used the same writing and production teams for their shows' themes, and Lear often tapped the husband and wife team of Alan and Marylin Bergman, who got their break co-writing with Quincy on “In the Heat of the Night.”

But as I said before, don’t let the TV theme song credits fool you, the Bergmans are two-time Academy Awards winners and in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. That’s the kind of talent behind Good Times.

The Good Times theme is a negro spiritual (there’s a Hammond B3 organ in it; issa spiritual), and singers Jim Gilstrap, from Stevie Wonder’s backing group, Wonderlove; and Somara “Blinky” Williams, a former original member of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) Singers along with Andrae Crouch and famed session player Billy Preston, put some extra oil on it.

You don’t believe me when I say this is worship music? Watch this.

I really wanna know what the Bergmans knew about hanging in a chow line, though. I’m not even sure I knew that was the lyric before Dave Chappelle told us.

The Jeffersons

Before we move on from Lear sitcoms we have to pay respect to the best black TV theme song of all time. And before you argue with me, let’s please look at the stats: a 35-person choir, stomping and clapping - even double clapping! - mention of fish fry, and a reprise over the end credits with hummin’ like your big mama used to do while she was cookin’ on Sundays. Winner.

Even though it’s one of the best-known sitcom theme songs ever, what’s lesser known is that another Lear alum was behind it – Ja’net Dubois, aka Good Times’ Wilona Woods, co-wrote and sang the theme. Also, the male voice that joins her in the bridge isn’t Sherman Hemsley (although it really sounds like it could be him) but career backup singer Oren Waters.

Ja’net, who was a singer as well as actress, ran into Lear on the CBS lot one day and shared that she wanted to display her talent beyond acting. Lear partnered her with Jeff Barry to work on the aspirational Jefferson’s theme. Jeff had pop hits under his belt as part of producer Phil Spector’s stable; he wrote “River Deep - Mountain High.” He also wrote “One Day at a Time,” and later “Without Us,” Deniece Williams and Johnny Mathis’ yacht-rocky theme for Family Ties.

Dubois later told Jet magazine she pulled from her own experience once she’d “made it” with Good Times. “I moved my whole family. I bought (my mother) a house, bought her a mink coat. I did everything, retired her. I did everything I ever promised her.” And you can feel Ja’net’s testimony coming through as that moving van makes its way across the Queensboro bridge and up the East Side.

Amen

Sherman Hemsley had the good fortune of being associated with two entries in the Praise Songs of TV (I just made that up) category. Amen’s “Shine on Me” is not only a rousing bop, it’s a forreal and actual gospel song. The theme was written, produced and played by the father of modern gospel, Andraé Crouch, and sung by gospel legend Vanessa Bell Armstrong. Sister Vanessa was backed in the TV version by the choir from Crouch’s First Memorial COGIC church. She later did her own version, but it didn’t have quite the same oomph when slowed down a little and without the full voices of a choir behind her.

Sigh… Imagine a time when a sitcom about a deacon in the black church with a whole gospel theme song was a primetime network hit. Also shout out to “There’s No Place Like Home” from 227, which preceded Amen on Saturday nights.

The Cosby Show

We’re going to set everything about Bill Cosby the man aside for a minute to talk about the show and its music. Agreed? Amen.

The Cosby Show has to be in this conversation, because over the course of the show’s history, the theme song and opening sequence became a hallmark of the series’ greatness, and it’s a prime example of theme songs being deeper than just something to play over opening credits. Every season, a new adaptation of “Kiss Me,” the theme written by Cosby and Stu Gardner (who also co-wrote the themes for A Different World and Living Single), opened the show. The opening sequence featured a Huxtable family dance showcase, changing as the kids grew and the cast core cast added, and sometimes subtracted. We were as anxious for the Cosby season premiere to see the new intro as we were to see the show itself.

Season 3 is when it started getting crunk, with a little Latin action. Auntie Phylicia was gettin’ it.

In Season 4 (my least favorite), “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” mania had made its way to the Huxtable family with Bobby McPheren’s rendition and a bit of a roaring ‘20s (and for the sake of the show location, we’ll say Harlem Renaissance) feel. Elvin’s first year in the sequence, Denise’s first year out.

Season 5 was a production. Literally, it was staged like a Broadway production. By now, the show was known for exposing diasporic art and culture and the people behind it to the world whenever possible, and that was the intention here as well, on the low.

The set design was a little South Pacific-esque, and costumes had a Caribbean flair reminiscent of some Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater pieces - appropriate since the movement was choreographed by Ailey great (and Boomerang’s off the chain creative director) Geoffrey Holder. Cosby’s high school classmate James DePriest, one of the first internationally recognized African American orchestral conductors, arranged the music, played by the Oregon Symphony orchestra. It was sweeping and gorgeous and I remember it being kind of a big deal. Second season with no Denise in the credits. I think she had left Hillman and gone Africa by this point. Or something.

Season 6 is my favorite. It was a party. The entire family was getting it in to a jam session take on the theme remixed with Junior Walker and the All Stars’ “Shotgun.” Even though the opening was set in front of the Apollo marquee, this was the Motown sequence. “Shotgun,” was a massive crossover hit, produced by Berry Gordy, and featured Motown’s famed session players, the Funk Brothers on instrumentals.

Welcome back, Denise. And hi, Martin and Olivia. Theo and Vanessa were hitting. that. heaux.

Ok, actually, Season 8 is my least favorite. Least favorite season, theme song, opening sequence, all of it. Here, I think, it’s clear that the show was past its prime. This jazzmatazz intro didn’t feel super fresh or creative, and Theo was trying to hit b-boy moves, and cousin Pam clearly wasn’t comfortable, and Vanessa looked like she just got engaged to a 40-year old ninja named Dabnis, and Clair still had her coat on because she couldn’t be bothered.

But on the cultural side, it was still in theme. The mural was created by kids at Harlem’s Creative Arts Workshop, although a legal dispute over art clearances kept this visual from being used as originally intended in Season 7. On the horn is Lester Bowie, a trumpeter known for his free jazz style.

A Different World

Obviously, we were paying a visit to Hillman next. “A Different World” is one of the best theme songs of all time – for Seasons 2 through 5 (also one of the best shows of all time – for Seasons 2 through 5).

Dawn Lewis, aka Jaleesa, co-wrote the song with Stu Gardner. She was originally supposed to sing it, as well, until whoever hired her to write the song realized she was also in the cast, and whoever cast her as Jaleesa realized she also wrote the song. The collective powers that be thought Dawn singing the theme would center her too much when the show was about Lisa Bonet, so they went to Al Green. Yes, the Reverend Al Green. A version of the “Different World” theme song sung by Al Green exists out there in the world somewhere, and I now have a life mission to hear it. Producers didn’t like it, though. They decided to go with a female voice, and pegged folk and blues singer Phoebe Snow.

As the show went into its second season, producers decided to take a similar approach as The Cosby Show and flip the theme every season with different artists and styles. Then Aretha Franklin recorded her version, and that idea was dead, because why would you ever ask someone else to sing behind Aretha. Debbie Allen, who had just stepped in as the show’s executive producer (Aunt Debbie brought A Different World out of the middling fare of its first season to the strong, black and relevant show we remember it as, but that’s a different Sermon) called Auntie Re personally, and then brought her whole team from Detroit to LA on a bus (because Auntie Re wasn’t gonna fly, chile). Then, TV history was made.

“I just know that she came in and hit it,” Allen told Vulture. “It wasn’t like she had to do ten takes, that’s what I know. She just hit it. That’s what I remember and then we all kind of hung out and had food together, you know — she loved our show which is why she did it.”

I’m low key surprised Aretha agreed to do the song since her ex-husband, Glynn Turman, joined the cast in Season 2 and she’s petty like that, but she also watched a lot of television and was a fan. When most think of A Different World, they’re thinking of seasons two and beyond. That iconic montage we’ve see recreated in tribute again and again, from SportsCenter to Grown’ish Season 2 promos. Nobody references car washes and hanging out outside of….a barn, I think? Where they at a farm for the Season 1 opening sequence? (You can tell some white people put that together – no shots).

Finally, the last season of A Different World was sort of “Different World: The Next Generation,” so they went in a new direction for the theme with a very non-Boyz II Men sounding Boyz II Men (I thought it was Take 6 for the longest), but Seasons 2 through 5 still reign supreme.

Different Strokes

On to a different show about different worlds. Remember I mentioned OGs in the theme song game? One of them was Alan Thicke. Yes, Robin Thicke’s daddy was not only lovable TV dad Jason Seaver, but also a professional theme writer. Thicke penned the tracks for a couple of sitcoms, including Facts of Life (with Robin’s mama Gloria Loring on vocals), but his thing was game shows. Your grandma has Alan to thank for the “Wheel of Fortune” theme. He not only wrote but sang “Diff’rent Strokes” (sounding a little like his son), and I mean, the song is perfect. The opening, the harmony build in the second verse, the bridge, the breakdown “…and together we’ll be fine, ‘cause it takes…,” the hum at the end of the closing credits version. You can tell from this one-minute jamalam that Robin got his blue-eyed soul honestly.

Speaking of the Chappelle Show again (there’s a Chappelle reference for everything in life), Dave closes out his famous White People Can’t Dance episode (Season 2, Episode 3) with a spirited performance of “Diff’rent Strokes,” going into a “Facts of Life” vamp, backed by Questlove and John Mayer.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Living Single

I’m putting these two together because they’re two of the last examples of the explanatory theme song for black prime time television.

The Quincy Jones-produced Fresh Prince theme tells us Will’s entire back story and the premise of the show – a ‘90s hip-hop answer to the Gilligan’s Island theme.

Living Single’s theme conveyed the high energy city life the four upwardly mobile friends were navigating, with emphasis from Queen Latifah’s sing-rapping about her homegirls standing on her left and her right, and the legendary dancing silhouette that is Big Lez.

Both shows, songs, and visuals have become representative of the hip hop generation’s takeover of ‘90s black television and ‘90s black culture, and both continue to hold up amazing well 25 years later.

We haven’t even touched on the soulful ‘70s themes that became hit singles, like “Welcome Back Kotter” (my joint) or “Angela” from Taxi, or sketch show theme songs like Heavy D for In Living Color (or TLC for “All That,” for y’all younger folks), or the cartoon smashes. There are gems galore to be mined, all containing shining bits of nostalgia and callbacks to a simpler time. These songs often resonate with us even more strongly than our favorite singles from the era because they were a constant for years instead of months. And thanks to networks later devoting blocks of time to classic TV reruns like Nick at Night and TV Land, many of these shows – and theme songs – have been introduced to a new generation.

We’ve focused mostly on black TV shows, but there are a few theme songs that cross cultural, generational and international boundaries. When the Golden Girls premiered in 1985, the series featured a remake of the 1978 song “Thank You for Being a Friend,” and it has lived in all our hearts ever since. So much so, that a member of the black church delegation gave the song a proper remix a couple of years ago. Let this be a reminder that great TV theme songs were not only catchy songs that stuck in our heads for decades, but also impetrated universal lessons about life, love, and friendship.

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#MusicSermon is a weekly series by Naima Cochrane that highlights the under-acknowledged and under-appreciated urban artists and sub-genres from the '90s and earlier. The series seeks to tell unknown and/or forgotten stories that connect the dots between current music, culture and the foundations of the past.

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8 Best Samples From Megan Thee Stallion, Tyler The Creator And DJ Khaled's Projects

Megan Thee Stallion, DJ Khaled and Tyler, The Creator have more in common than just a release date. The artists also know a thing or two about thoughtful sampling.

Their projects, which all happen to be some of their best efforts, find inspiration from 70s soul and deep 90s underground jams. Jackson 5, Jay-Z and Sizzla were sampled on DJ Khaled's previous release Grateful, but with Father of Asahd, the producer and proud dad jumps back into the crates. This time around, modern hits are used like Ms. Lauryn Hill's "To Zion" and Outkast's "Ms. Jackson."

Megan Thee Stallion's samples also prove her rhymes aren't the only thing fans should pay close attention to.

Check out some of our favorite samples from this week's releases below.

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Megan Thee Stallion- Fever 

1. "Hood Rat S**t"

Sample: Latarian Milton's Viral Video (2013)

Plucked from the wonderful world of viral videos, Megan uses the then 7-year-old's mischevious joy ride to accurately describe how she rolls with her crew.

2. "Pimpin"

Sample: DJ Zirk & Tha 2 Thick Family featuring 8Ball & MJG and Kilo-g  "Azz Out" (1996) 

There's something to be said about Megan's very clever samples. The chorus to the late 90s underground gem stems from southern legends like Tennesee's 8Ball and MJG along with NOLA's own Kilo-g. Megan grabs a few bars from the track and puts her own twist on them for the chorus: "Stick 'em up, stick 'em up, raise 'em up, raise 'em up Drop it off in his fucking face just to saw it off/Gotta get my a** ate, gotta make that a** shake/Gotta swipe this ni**a card so much they had to call the bank"

3. "Simon Says" featuring Juicy J 

Samples: Billy Paul, "Me And Mrs. Jones" (1972), "Looking For Tha Chewin,'" DJ Paul (Ft. 8Ball, DJ Zirk, Kilo-G, Kingpin Skinny Pimp & MJG) (1992)

Another variation of the aforementioned track is also heard on her collaboration with southern legend Juicy J. The soft intro by way of Bill Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones" also offers a soulful touch to the track.

DJ Khaled- Father of Asahd

4. "Holy Mountian" featuring Buju Banton, Sizzla, Mavado and 070 Shake) 

Sample: "One Spliff a Day," Billy Boyo (1981) 

Boyo's legendary riddim has been used by a bevy of artists including SiR and Wiz Khalifa but Khaled's curation of the track with some of the biggest names in reggae takes it to another level. It also doesn't hurt that his longtime friend and icon Banton opens the album.

5. "Just Us" featuring SZA 

Sample: "Ms. Jackson," Outkast (2001) 

This sample definitely raises the eyebrows, but the careful loop paired with SZA's sing-rap flow makes it worth a listen.

6. "Holy Ground" featuring Buju Banton 

Samples: "To Zion," Ms. Lauryn Hill and Carlos Santana (1999) 

Grand opening, grand closing. Banton closes out the album with soul-baring lyrics and a thoughtful sample to match. Carlos Santana's chords from the original track give the song a sentimental feel along with Banton's lyrics about mass incarceration, cultural warfare and spiritual freedom.

Tyler, The Creator- IGOR

7. "A BOY IS A GUN" 

Samples: "Bound," Ponderosa Twins Plus One (1971) 

Tyler might have gotten inspiration to sample this song from Kanye West (Bound 2), but his take is smooth and subtle as he navigates through love and heartbreak.

8. "ARE WE STILL FRIENDS" featuring Pharell Williams 

Samples: "Dream," Al Green (1977) 

Underneath IGOR's tough exterior lies a gentle soul. The placement of Al Green's "Dream," on the latter end of the album takes the listener on a starry love high. Pharrell and Tyler allow the sample to act as a skeleton for the song as they point out how to keep love alive.

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Megan Thee Stallion Helps DTLR Celebrate Fashion's Past, Present and Future

Fashion retailer DTLR has always curated the best of streetwear, with their latest fashion show proving the evolution is real and influential.

The fourth annual show took place in Atlanta this spring under a theme titled, "Genesis."  The event took place in Atlanta, GA, with hosts Yung Joc and DTLR's Radio's Tiara LaNiece. DTLR's Apprelle Norton, David Storey and KeJuan McGee curated the event to take their guests "on a journey through the past, present and future of fashion, featuring the latest from top leading brands such as Nike, Puma, Adidas, Levis, Champion, Reebok, Fila, Black Pyramid, New Balance, Tommy Hilfiger, Staple, Hustle Gang, Akoo, Ethika, Odd Sox, and many more."

In addition to presenting some of the hottest looks out, the event also welcomed performances from VIBE NEXT Alumna Megan Thee Stallion. Appearances from the the "Big Ol Freak" rapper was an added effort on DTLR's Vice President of Marketing, Shawn Caesar's part to make the fashion show more of an "experience."

"We wanted to add more of an 'experience' feel to the show this year," Caesar said in a press release. "[We wanted]  to encourage more engagement and interaction from our attendees, and to aid in creating more memories and reasons to stay connected to the DTLR brand long-term."

DTLR is quickly becoming a part of a class of successful upcoming brands. The brand has more than 240 stores in 19 states and Washington D.C. and it manages to combine fashion, sports, entertainment, sports, and community empowerment into one; all while providing their customers with elite footwear, apparel and accessories to match.

See photos from the event below.

 

 

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